Life is what happens when you are making other plans. Today I am once again deviating from my plan because something momentous happened yesterday. The Scottish novelist, Iain Banks died, aged 59. He was the author of ‘The Wasp Factory’, voted one of the Great Novels of the Twentieth Century, as well as ‘The Crow Road’, a book which begins with the immortal line:
“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Iain Banks, The Crow Road, Scribners 1992.
Surely, this is the greatest first line of any novel since Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and Orwell’s ‘1984’.
Regular readers will know that Banksie was a hero of mine. I went to see him speak several times, as he was a regular visitor to Norwich, near where I live. He was best described in three words, in my experience:
Angry. Talented. Funny.
He introduced me to a Scotland that I fell in love with, and to a way of writing that is spare, funny and insightful. He was extraordinarily productive and his work covered a wide range of subjects, genres and styles. When you opened a new Banksie novel, you never knew quite what you were going to get next.
If you want to read the best of Banks’s literary fiction, I recommend ‘The Wasp Factory’, ‘The Crow Road’, and ‘Complicity’. I can’t comment on his science fiction, for which he was also justly famous, because I never managed to get through one. Space operas aren’t really my thing. But as I have said before, his ‘Raw Spirit’, a book about whisky, driving, Scotland and being a writer, is one of the most charming I have read.
It is sad that a writer so talented and prolific has been taken from us so young, but why am I writing about this? Because Banksie was a writing hero of mine, that’s why. A writer I admired and wanted to emulate. Like Virginia Woolf, his photograph hangs in my study to inspire me. He taught me that protagonists don’t have to be likeable, and that little memories from growing up can serve as icons of our internal psychology. He taught me that you should keep at it, and write what you love. And that it’s okay to be funny, and a bit geeky.
Who are the people that inspire you? Whose work do you seek to emulate, or admire? Whose biography have you read for a better understanding of the creative process? Who are your artistic heroes?
These people are your creative ancestors, and you must always acknowledge where you come from. Take time in your notebook to name the people who inspire you, whether it is their life struggle from which you take courage, as I do with Woolf and Frida Kahlo, or their creative process which fascinates you. Perhaps it is their politics, or religious faith you admire, or their down-to-earth attitude. Perhaps it is simply the creative work they produced. Whether your hero is Steven Spielberg, Gandhi, Maya Angelou or Picasso, explore what they mean to you, what their example says about where you want to take your art.